Clara and Luther

Get to know your grandparents, and your life will be enlarged. Your life will extend back in time by half a century or so. You’ll gain an expanded perspective, because ideas, even worldviews, change over such a span. If you get a chance to see the world through the eyes of your grandparents and hear about it from their lips, by all means take advantage of the opportunity!

Previously in these blogs I told a story about my father’s parents as an example of will. Now I would like to tell about my mother’s parents.

As a child and teenager I knew very little about my grandfather, Luther A. Weigle. If you asked, I might have answered smartly that he spelled his middle name, Allan, with an “a” in the second syllable rather than an “e.” That is to say, I didn’t know much about him as a thinker.

I felt then that I knew a little more about Grandma, Clara Boxrud Weigle. She mailed sweet birthday greetings to me. She loved all of us deeply, but also expected no-nonsense moral behavior. As we approached their summer home on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire at the end of the long automobile trip from Mississippi, Mama made us hide the comic books we children had been reading along the way, even the Disney comics. “Grandma will take them away from you,” she said.

When we arrived, Grandma hugged us and exclaimed about how big we’d grown, then quickly went to work to keep our schedule moving. Days at Sunapee were filled with swimming, boating, hooking sunfish and sometimes perch or bass, making sand castles, climbing over granite boulders, picking blueberries, hiking through the woods or up Mount Kearsarge.

Each morning we’d find Grandma already up, having made a wood fire in the stove for scrambled eggs or oatmeal. Each evening we got a taste of northern cooking – usually meat, potatoes, sometimes peas in milk, rhubarb that tasted like applesauce, and delicious blueberry, apple, or brown sugar pies. In the evening we might listen to or read by ourselves, instead of comic books, children’s books from 1920s and 1930s, usually with a moralistic tone. More about that in the next blog.  

As happy as memories like these can be, it’s a shame that most of us have so little opportunity to get to know our grandparents’ own hopes, struggles, victories and losses, and their interpretations of those events as they moved through a lifetime. As soon as we are old enough, and if we’re lucky enough to have them still alive, let’s take the time to probe their memories and record their stories.

I had few adult conversations with Luther Weigle and even fewer with Clara Boxrud Weigle, who died when I was a teenager. Fortunately he left a wealth of written material worth examining. He was a minister, a philosophy professor, and a longtime educator whose early interests centered on childhood education, especially the formation of character and will. My mother spoke and wrote about both of her parents.

I’m fascinated by the period of the 1890s and early 1900s when my grandparents were young, a time of intellectual ferment driven by path-breaking science and newborn pragmatism, yet founded on Victorian assumptions of character and will, before those assumptions were shattered by two world wars. What was it like to grow into adulthood during that period?

Are my grandparents appropriate subjects for these blogs? Mama taught me not to brag. But you might perceive that our family’s level of achievement peaked in the last century, bequeathing to me and my generation a downward curve. These stories could be humbling rather than prideful.

Regardless, you should consider someday writing down your family’s stories. The digital age offers incredible opportunities to expand our generational domes. Genealogies should no longer be restricted to names, dates, places, and occupations. Leave something for your children, nieces and nephews, cousins, and future generations to tell them who their forebears were, what they did and said, how they reacted to each other, how they loved, how they sought and found redemption.

In these blogs we discuss the will, but if successful, not the universal, abstract will. Instead it should be my will, or yours, or for these particular blogs, the will as expressed in family stories. These personal stories are the ones I know best, and I hope they may serve as examples of willful life.

Perhaps Clara and Luther Weigle’s giving is not yet complete, although they sustained friendships widely and helped many children besides their own. Their story may still inspire. It might be similar to or different from your forebears or mentors. I’ll be happy to append comments or links to this post.

Without further apology, I’ll mention some highlights of their lives here and then present parts of Grandpa’s advice on childhood education in the next 2 blogs.

Luther Weigle was Pennsylvania “Dutch” or Deutsch, born to parents of German descent in the northeast part of the state. His father Elias was a Lutheran minister, and the family moved often.

When Luther went to Gettysburg College in 1896, he decided to join secretly an organization that his father had expressly forbidden him to join. With some of the money given to him for expenses, Luther paid the dues of the secret society. His deception persisted through 4 years of college and into his first year of seminary in Gettysburg.

Then his conscience broke through. He wrote a long, anxious letter to his father, asking forgiveness and promising to repay the money. His father promptly replied in a telegram:

It is all right. I forgive you. I knew it two days after you did it.

The telegram brought “a flash of illumination” to Luther, teaching him how a child’s responsibility to seek forgiveness can be honored by a parent, though stretching all limits of patience and distress. It corresponded forcefully with what he would learn in seminary.

His years at Gettysburg College had challenged and enlarged Luther’s worldview. By the time he entered seminary in 1900, he would recall, “I was convinced that one could accept the scientific principle of evolution and yet hold to the Christian conception of God and the Christian view of human life.”[1]

He graduated from Gettysburg Seminary in 1902 and enrolled at Yale for further studies in religious philosophy. The following year young Weigle came up for ordination in the Allegheny Synod of the Lutheran denomination. A professor at Gettysburg College, scheduled to deliver his ordination sermon, instead strenuously objected, arguing that the young man’s ordination was premature. Luther’s father had not expected to speak at all, but asked for the privilege of the floor, laid out the case for his son, and gained success in a vote that was unanimous save one. His father also preached the ordination sermon. From him Luther received “laying on of hands.”

How much might I have learned when I was young, if I ever had discussed evolution with my grandfather or discussed the battles of societal upheaval and institutional resistance!

But by that time my parents had agreed not to debate science and religion in front of the children. The turmoil of the sixties occupied my teenage years, and time was short on our family visits from Mississippi to New England. Grandpa did not push his ideas upon me, and I rarely thought to ask his opinion.

As a young adult Luther Weigle spent a summer teaching at Mississippi College, a Baptist school in the town of Clinton near Jackson. A fellow teacher told him that a person should not consider the day warm unless he could put the smooth side of his forearm down on a piece of paper and pick up the paper. To break the enervating succession of hot days and nights, Luther would play his banjo, sometimes joining groups of students in evening songfests.

On July Fourth, Luther walked onto a small pavilion with his banjo. He planned to lead a celebration of reconciliation – both Southern and Northern songs. Passing students grimaced, turned their heads, and walked away.

He then learned that the city of Vicksburg had fallen to General Grant on July 4; the day would not be celebrated at Mississippi College. Luther decided against singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Instead he sang “Boola-boola, down the field” about Yale football and closed the show.

In his academic career, Luther cultivated strong interests in Horace Bushnell’s Christian nurture including “emancipation of the child,” in the new field of psychology as taught by William James, and in childhood development according to John Mason Tyler and others. Luther moved from New Haven in 1905 to join the faculty of Carleton College in Minnesota as a youthful professor and head of the philosophy department. A history of Carleton reported that “Weigle was not only young in age when he came here, but looked even younger. He got along very well with the students, being welcomed as an honorary member of several student organizations, playing tennis with the young people and singing in the glee club.”[2]

Clara Boxrud grew up in Minnesota riding horses in summer and reading books in winter. Her cultural heritage mixed Norse folk tales and strict Protestant theology, as her grandparents had emigrated from Norway.

My mother wrote about Clara and Luther’s initial meeting and first date:

I never tired of hearing how you and Mother met and courted. You were a young professor at Carleton. It was registration day in September 1906. Clara Rosetta Boxrud had spent her junior year at Wellesley, but, fortunately for the course of these events, Wellesley would not accept all of her high school credits, insisting upon an additional year to complete college requirements. Being an independent young woman, Mother simply returned to Carleton to graduate with her class of 1907. There she was, with those sky-blue eyes, asking whether she might take your course in Christian Ethics. “I wanted to tell her she could take anything she liked with me,” you’d always say with a grin.

Because it was not deemed proper for a faculty member to single out one of his students, you waited until the year was nearly over before you asked her to accompany you to a literary society dinner. She accepted, but, oh disaster, in clumsy eagerness you let her slip off the boardwalk into the mud, bedraggling the new gown and feather boa! Still, you were a persistent chap.[3]

A year later, Luther spent 2 months of the summer in Europe traveling with his father. In Rome he bought a pearl necklace for Clara. Again in the words of their daughter:

Upon returning, you went to the little Minnesota town where she was teaching school and surprised her with the pearls. “Oh, Luther,” she exclaimed, flushing with excitement, “they are so beautiful! How can I ever thank you? I’m just going to give you a great big – a great big – handshake!” You didn’t get that kiss until you’d proposed and been accepted.[4]

Despite advice from her mother that she was too young at age 23, Clara Boxrud married Luther Weigle on June 15, 1909. The header image for this blog shows them at their 50th wedding anniversary, celebrated with their 4 children, spouses, and 19 grandchildren.


Next post:  The Pupil and The Teacher

Previous post:  Free Will: An Exercise

Searching for GSOT outline:  Home

Header image:  Clara and Luther Weigle at their 50th wedding anniversary in 1959. Family photo.

[1] Weigle, L.A. The Religious Education of a Protestant. Reprinted in Weigle, R.D. The Glory Days: From the Life of Luther Allan Weigle. Friendship Press, New York, 1976, p. 15.

[2] Northfield News, September 9, 2005. “As dean, Weigle causes Carleton life to run smoothly.” URL:, accessed 10/2/2016.

[3] Guyton, R.W. Love Letter. Reprinted in Weigle, R.D. The Glory Days: From the Life of Luther Allan Weigle. Friendship Press, New York, 1976, pp. 110-111.

[4] Ibid.

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